background information
How are students abusing these prescription drugs?
How are the drugs so readily obtained?
Learn more about this nationwide epidemic.
How are they obtained?
This illustration depicts ways in which college students across the country are getting their hands on ADHD drugs.
 

Legally, the only way for someone to obtain ADD and ADHD drugs is with a prescription from a doctor. However, there is a large percentage of people in the United States that are getting a hold of these drugs through other channels. A major demographic of people who abuse or illegally obtain these drugs are college students.

The majority of students obtain the drugs by purchasing doses through people who sell them on the black market. According to the Higher Education Center, almost 2,000 instances of Ritalin theft were reported between January 1990 and May 1995, putting the drug among the top 10 most frequently reported stolen controlled medications. The DEA estimated that nearly 700,000 doses of Ritalin were stolen between January 1996 and December 1997. In 2001, two rural teens were arrested in January for stealing $9,700 worth of Ritalin and amphetamines from a local pharmacy in Lacon, Ill. Street value for these pills ranges from $3 to $15 per tablet. In an ABC news report, one student describes how he made close $600 by selling his monthly prescription of Ritalin to students for $10 a pop.

An increasing number of students have decided to get their own prescription for the costly drugs. By faking the symptoms and deceiving the doctor, many have been successful in convincing the doctor that they have ADD or ADHD. At the University of Georgia, there is a two-month wait to test for ADHD at the University Health Center.

In an interview with ABC an anonymous student from Harvard explained how he got diagnosed with ADHD.

"Just read a little bit about the symptoms of ADD, and walked in, and pretended I had ADD -- just acted like a scatter brain," he said. "Look around, wouldn't pay attention, stuf like that. And, you know, the doctor bought it."

It might be hard to believe that a drug with such serious ramifications is so easy for students to obtain, but organizations such as Parents Against Ritalin will tell you otherwise. They feel abuse rates are so high because schools and medical professionals are labeling kids too quickly with ADD or ADHD and then prescribing Ritalin. According to ABC reports, the matter is now in a class-action lawsuit. Lawyers for plaintiffs allege that Novartis, the makers of Ritalin, over-promoted the diagnosis to boost drug sales. They believe the drugs are more available because there are more prescriptions filled.

Last year, according to IMS Health, which tracks pharmaceutical trends, more than 19 million prescriptions were filled for ADD and ADHD drugs. Each year, the drug Ritalin is currently being prescribed to an estimated 4 million American schoolchildren diagnosed with attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Studies show Ritalin's rise in use and abuse: the United States makes and uses 85% of the world's supply; one in five college students take it recreationally and more toddlers are getting prescriptions for it - despite opposition by the drug's manufacturers

Another factor that comes into play is the internet. By lying about symptoms, many students have had no problem ordering prescriptions online. Since 1999, online pharmacies have spread all over the internet, invaiding your email and web browser with numerous ads, giving students easy access to the drug of their choice.

"Certainly the Internet has facilitated the average person obtaining controlled substances when they would not have done so," says Elizabeth Willis, chief of drug operations in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Diversion Control. "Most people wouldn't go into their doctor and falsify medical complaints to their doctors, but over the Internet, they don't realize it's illegal, and they can do it anonymously."

According to the Christian Science Monitor, government investigators can only begin to estimate how many online pharmacies exist, in part because the illegitimate ones appear and disappear quickly. An investigation done by the General Accounting Office in 2000 found 190 Internet pharmacies operating at the time. Of those, 79 provided drugs without a proper prescription.

It's estimated there are now hundreds of pharmacies operating from the United States and overseas.